Monday, April 27, 2009

UK's Ingratitude To Gurkha Veterans: "It's Absolutely Shocking"

Another example of the UK's growing ingratitude towards its veterans. In February we blogged on Once-Great Britain's unwillingness to sponsor a group of surviving D-Day veterans in their hope to return to France one more time -- for many maybe the last time -- to the 65th anniversary of their great act of courage in participating in the liberation of Europe.

Last week, it was the turn of the loyal Gurkhas to see the current value placed on their service:

Thousands of Gurkhas were yesterday shut out of the UK in what was described as 'shameful betrayal' by the Government.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas claimed changes in the rules would allow 4,300 more former Gurkhas to settle here out of the 36,000 who served in the British Army before July 1997.

But lawyers battling for the Gurkhas said they believed only around 100 would benefit. Hundreds of former rank-and-file soldiers will face deportation while thousands more will be barred from entering the country.

Under the new rules, former Gurkhas must prove they have either served more than 20 years or have won one of the top four medals for gallantry: the Victoria Cross; the Distinguished Service Order; the Distinguished Conduct Medal; or the Military Cross.
Campaigners said it was virtually impossible for ordinary Gurkhas to meet those conditions.

The vast majority - 98 per cent - are rank-and-file soldiers who are permitted to serve for only 15 years. Only officers are allowed to serve for longer.

Top-level gallantry awards are given to a tiny minority of soldiers. Only one living Gurkha would qualify for entry on the basis of his medal alone.

Lawyer Martin Howe said that of more than 2,000 Gurkha veterans refused entry to Britain, only Military Cross-holder Lalit Bahadur Gurung would be eligible.

Mr Gurung, 81, who was awarded the cross in 1964, was refused entry to Britain for medical treatment last year.

Most Gurkhas who retired before 1997 were based in Hong Kong, so they will be unable to prove they have lived in Britain for three years, or that they have family settled here.

And for the oldest veterans living in poverty in Nepal - the fourth-poorest country in the world - it will be difficult to prove that their injuries and illnesses were caused by their Army service.

British actress Joanna Lumley , whose father fought alongside the Gurkhas in Burma during World War II, has taken a strong stand in support of the Gurkhas' cause, becoming the public face of the Gurkha Justice Campaign. Her disgust with the guidelines is palpable:

[1:30] "I'm sick of the insulting size of this ghastly little document. Most of the second page is just 'if you need more help or contacts...' This has taken them four months to come up with this, they've answered none of our letters, they've allowed us into no briefings. [pause] It's absolutely shocking."
The BBC offers the government's side of the story:

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas denied he had betrayed the Gurkhas, adding: "This improves the situation."

He said: "It has never been the case that all Gurkhas pre-1997 were to be allowed to stay in the country. With their dependants you could be looking at 100,000 people."
[P]rime Minister Gordon Brown insisted the new rules were fair and took into account "the responsibilities we have accepted" towards the Gurkhas.

"To go back 20 years from 1997 is something that's a major change in policy and will help a large number of Gurkhas if they wish to make the decision to come to Britain," he said.

"And remember that there are costs involved in that decision that we have got to meet."
It's too bad that the one cost referenced by Judge Justice Blake in his ruling last September, does not seem to weigh heavily on Gordon Brown's conscience:
The Home Office will doubtless wish to consult with the MOD [Ministry Of Defence], but if Home Office policy to discharged veterans does not impede military effectiveness, and there are no international law or foreign policy constraints, it is difficult to see why the MOD should not itself welcome clarity and the honouring of a historic debt. The court is conscious that at the heart of military life and the sacrifices that soldiers make in the discharge of their duties is the Military Covenant. This reads:

"Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices – including the ultimate sacrifice – in the service of the Nation. In putting the needs of the Nation and the Army before their own, they forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces. In return, British Soldiers must be able to always expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service".

Rewarding long and distinguished service by the grant of residence in the country for which the service was performed would, in my judgment, be a vindication and an enhancement of this covenant.

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